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What Is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is the most common musculoskeletal condition after osteoarthritis. Still, it is often misdiagnosed and misunderstood. Its characteristics include widespread muscle and joint pain and fatigue, as well as other symptoms. Fibromyalgia can lead to depression and social isolation.

This overview of fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) covers symptoms, diagnosis, and both standard and alternative treatments.

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What Is Fibromyalgia Syndrome?

A syndrome is a set of symptoms. When they exist together, they imply the presence of a specific disease or a greater chance of developing the disease. With fibromyalgia syndrome, the following symptoms commonly occur together:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Decreased pain threshold or tender points
  • Incapacitating fatigue
  • Widespread pain

 

Are Women More Likely to Get Fibromyalgia Than Men?

More than 12 million Americans have fibromyalgia. Most of them are women ranging in age from 25 to 60. Women are 10 times more likely to get this disease than men.

What Are Fibromyalgia Symptoms?

Fibromyalgia causes you to ache all over. You may have symptoms of crippling fatigue -- even on arising. Specific tender points on the body may be painful to touch. You may experience swelling, disturbances in deep-level or restful sleep, and mood disturbances or depression.

Your muscles may feel like they have been overworked or pulled. They'll feel that way even without exercise or another cause. Sometimes, your muscles twitch, burn, or have deep stabbing pain.

Some patients with fibromyalgia have pain and achiness around the joints in the neck, shoulder, back, and hips. This makes it difficult for them to sleep or exercise. Other fibromyalgia symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Chronic headaches
  • Dryness in mouth, nose, and eyes
  • Hypersensitivity to cold and/or heat
  • Inability to concentrate (called "fibro fog")
  • Incontinence
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Numbness or tingling in the fingers and feet
  • Stiffness

Fibromyalgia can cause signs and feelings similar to osteoarthritis, bursitis, and tendinitis. Some experts include it in this group of arthritis and related disorders. However, while the pain of bursitis or tendinitis is localized to a specific area, pain and stiffness with fibromyalgia are widespread.

What Tests Are Used to Diagnose Fibromyalgia?

To make an accurate diagnosis, your doctor will rely on a comprehensive physical exam and your medical history. There is a blood test to help diagnose fibromyalgia. The test -- called FM/a -- identifies markers produced by immune system blood cells in people with fibromyalgia. Ask your doctor if the FM/a test is right for you. 

To rule out more serious illnesses, your doctor may run some specific blood tests. For example, your doctor may ask for a complete blood count (CBC). The doctor may also ask for tests for chemicals, such as glucose, that can create problems similar to problems caused by fibromyalgia. A thyroid test may also be done. An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can cause problems similar to fibromyalgia. That includes fatigue, muscle aches, weakness, and depression.

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